Ritual of Liquidation: The Case of the Moscow Trials

By Nathan C. Leites; Elsa Bernaut | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9 Triumph in Self-Liquidation

In their trials the major defendants, becoming once again, and for the last time, Bolsheviks with a distinguished Party record, presented their combat against their former selves as freely chosen, active, skillful, successful, and unemotional. In thus further enhancing the last service they were rendering, they warded off the feelings of constraint, passivity, deterioration, helplessness and excitement which their situation evoked; feelings intolerable to Bolsheviks.

The period of activity in prison, and at the trial, contrasted with the period preceding the arrest of the old Bolshevik fallen from power. The descent from power to arrest had been slow for many of the defendants, often with ups and downs. In the phase preceding arrest many of them had retained considerable official status. But they became ostracized and grew more aware of imminent liquidation: they were "living corpses."1* An acute feeling of helplessness tended to dominate them, inducing apathy and minor acts of defiance. A Bolshevik in this situation suffered from the enforced inactivity, which made his life pointless. As Joffe wrote in his letter to Trotsky on November 16, 1927, the day of his suicide:

"More than thirty years ago I accepted the philosophy that human life has significance only as long as, and to the extent to which, it stands in the service of something infinite. For us humanity is something infinite. The rest is finite, and to work for this rest is therefore without significance. Even if humanity must have a significance beyond itself, that significance will become clear only in such a distant future that as far as we are concerned we may regard humanity as something utterly infinite. In this, and only in this have I always seen the meaning of life. And when I now look back on my past, of which I have spent 27 years in the ranks of our Party, I believe I have the right to say that throughout my conscious life I have been faithful to this philosophy. I have always lived according to the motto: Work and struggle for the good of humanity. Therefore, I also believe I have the right to say that no day of my life has been without meaning.

"But it seems to me now that the time has come when my life loses its meaning, and therefore I feel obliged to leave it, to bring it to an end.

"Following their general policy of not giving work to the oppositionists, the present leaders of the Party have, for several years, not permitted me . . . an activity which . . . would correspond to the maximum of my capacity."2

-104-

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